In our study of the book of Job, one of the speakers says that God speaks to the suffering in their affliction. Earlier, he had said that God speaks to us in many ways. I suspect that God is always speaking to us, trying to get through to us somehow; it’s just that we can’t hear because we really aren’t listening. That is not to say that God afflicts us so that we will hear. But the truth is, when things are fine, we don’t think we need to hear from God so much.
I know firsthand that God does speak to the suffering in their affliction. Jill and I have never been more certain of anything as we are that God has spoken and continues to speak to us in our grief. Speaking for myself, I fear that is because only now am I finally eager to listen.
In the morning of the day that we learned that Rachel had been killed, Jill and I had read our One-Year Bible. That is and has been part of our routine for years, since we learned of the One-Year Bible from our beloved Brother Sam at Peaster Baptist Church in Peaster, Texas. I had been reading the One-Year Bible the morning of the day we learned of my sister’s death in a single car accident back in 1996. Brother Sam reminded me of Psalm 147:3 (He heals the broken-hearted, and binds up their wounds) from that day’s reading (we were all on the same page in those days). But it was another verse from Psalm 147 that caught my eye and the Lord used to speak directly to my heart about Vanessa that day:
He does not delight in the strength of the horse;
He does not take pleasure in the legs of a man.
The Lord favors those who fear Him,
Those who wait for His lovingkindness.
Vanessa was an accomplished horseman and a gifted runner. She had put a sticker in the window of her truck that said, “Fear God”. As proud as we were of her accomplishments, it was her reverence and devotion to the Lord that was the most impressive thing...and what made her a special treasure in His eyes.
So when we got the news about Rachel, I knew there was something in the Bible we had read that morning that God was speaking to us. The Old Testament passage we had read had been from the book of Ezra. Exiled for the past seventy years, the Jews had been permitted to return to their homeland and instructed by Cyrus, king of Persia to rebuild the temple. When they finish the foundation they have a dedication celebration. The song they sing is a song that should be familiar to anyone who has read through the Old Testament:
God is so good!
His faithful love endures forever.
These are the words God spoke to our hearts that morning, and this song has been the constant refrain I have heard in my grief. More often than not it has been a challenge to believe in God’s goodness in the darkness and the pain of losing our daughter. Often, to be honest, I just can’t see it. It has been an act of faith to cling to what we know of His love in spite of everything.
We take longer than a year to read through the One-Year Bible. We’re not “religious” about it. We read it when we can and mark our place for the next reading. So on November 11, 2009 we returned for the first time to the passage we had read the morning of February 21, 2008 (which, incidentally, was the entry for August 6th - so you can see how liberty we have). Coming upon that passage again took us by surprise. But, looking back, the Lord had been preparing me. I had ordered and just received Steven Curtis Chapman’s new cd, “Beauty Will Rise.” The music had been written in response to the death of his daughter, Maria, on May 21, 2008. Before I woke Jill to take our shower (we are passionate about water conservation) I had been listening, reading the liner notes, and weeping as I reflected on the similarities to our own journey of grief...and faith.
We are in a different place than we were 20 months ago. While I am more convinced than ever about the goodness and faithfulness of our loving God, this time different verses from the same day’s passage spoke to me. 1 Corinthians 2:10, from the New Testament passage from that day, says, “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined what God has prepared for those who love Him.”
Along with the assurance of God’s goodness, faithfulness and love, the promise that the next world is better than we can imagine is a comforting thought as we continue to miss Rachel and grieve for all that we are missing without her in this life. As I’ve said to Jill and others, “Heaven is not the booby prize.”
A final thought from the book of Proverbs rounds out the Lord’s message to us on that red-letter day: “How can we understand the road we travel? It is the Lord who directs our steps.”
This is not the life I planned, expected or desired. The road has been difficult. It certainly has been and continues to be a “long, strange trip.” I don’t understand it. I can’t. But I don’t have to. What I can do is trust in the Lord to lead me where I must go. In the end, I believe this will be right where I need to be, right where He wants me...in His presence, never out of reach of His loving arms.